Filler: My cigarettes or my life? I'm thinking. I'm thinking ...
So just how long do I want to live, anyway? It's a question I've been pondering this past week, since I read a study explaining when smokers can expect to check out, based on when they quit.
I've been trying to stop since the first of the year. Some days, I've smoked few or no cigarettes. On other days, though, the effort has involved smoking quite a bit but being filled with robust self-loathing. That, along with the furious glances and unexpected kidney punches I authorized my 11-year-old daughter to deliver in the hopes it would help me stop, make smoking more expensive and painful than not smoking, but not much more fun.
According to the study, by the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, most people who smoke till they die will lose about 10 years of life expectancy, and are unlikely to see 80. Just 38 percent of female smokers and 26 percent of male smokers who never kicked the Camel managed eight decades, while 70 percent of women and 61 percent of men who never lit up did.
But I'm not sure I'm shooting for my 80s. I'm out of touch and uncool at 42, even when I don my parachute pants and Vanilla Ice concert T-shirt. By 83 I'll be the guy at the Stop & Shop who doesn't take out his checkbook until all his groceries are bagged, demands a price check on stewed prunes, and tells the cashier about each of his bunions while the line behind him runs out the building.
Puffers who put down the Pall Malls between the ages of 55 and 64 lose about six years of life expectancy, while those who quit between 45 and 54 forfeit four. And anyone who manages to swear off the Salems between 35 and 44 sacrifices just about one year, on average.
To know exactly what this means for me, I'd have to know how long I would live had I never smoked at all. This is tough to say, because as far as I know, I don't have any forebears who never smoked. If you found a prehistoric painting of the Fillers on a cave wall, they'd all be chugging fermented taro and tonics, playing gin rummy with painted rocks and smoking something.
My mother died at 65. She smoked like wet wood on a campfire and considered vegetables a delivery system for butter, cheese and dressing. Her only exercise consisted of exercising her right to point out the shortcomings of her children, admittedly a strenuous and lengthy process. My dad died at 55, but healthwise, he made my mom look like Jillian Michaels from "The Biggest Loser."
So I'm in a sweet spot for quitting. If I kick today, I'll only have lost one year of life.
The problem is, I don't know just how awesome the tail end of my story will be. Does my huge investment in carpet-lint-powered automobiles pan out? Will there be Social Security? How about Medicare? Old doesn't look fun in general, but "old, broke and lacking medical treatment" might actually lose out to "dead" on my list.
And what about music? In theory, the tunes in 40 years will be so bad that we will scream, "That's not music, turn it off" at our grandkids when they play their stuff. My generation came up on NWA and Rage Against the Machine. What could possibly be worse than what we listened to? Loud tracks of screaming giraffes being run over by cars pulling steel trash cans? I don't think I need to hear that.
But I would like to meet those grandchildren. I'd like to dance at my daughter's wedding, or at least pop wheelies on my Rascal scooter.
The idea that if I do it now I won't lose too many years, and if I don't, I will, feels very cut and dried. It makes it seem, and rightfully so, that my premature death might well be optional. That's what it seemed like in the case of my parents, and I wouldn't want my daughter to feel about my choices the way I felt about theirs.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.